Colombian Army Massacres Community Leader and Family of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

On 21st February 2005, soldiers of the National Army of Colombia carried out a massacre among the civilian population of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.

The Peace Community Council set up a verification commission consisting of 300 people who, after visiting the site where these events took place, issued the following report on 27th February 2005:

"On Friday 25th February at about midday we found evidence of the massacre; two common graves containing the mutilated bodies of Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia, Sandra Milena Muñoz and their children Natalia Andrea Tuberquia aged 4 years and Santiago Tuberquia Muñoz aged 18 months.

We also found in one of the graves the remains of Alejandro Perez, aged 30, who lived with his girlfriend and son in La Resbalosa. Alejandro was not involved in the Peace Community nor in the Humanitarian Zones in the nearby settlements.

All of these people had been hacked to death with machetes, with their heads and limbs cut off, an example of the ferocity and unbelievable cruelty of the perpetrators.

According to a witness who survived the incident, the army broke into the house of Mr. Alfonso Tuberquia firing their guns and one gunshot wounded his girlfriend, Sandra Milena.

Alejandro Perez and another man were approaching the house at a distance of about 40 metres. When they heard the shooting, they started running but Alejandro fell down wounded.

At the same time, Alfonso Tuberquia and a co-worker who was in his house at the time started to run away but Alfonso hesitated when he heard his girlfriend asking the soldiers not to kill her children. Alfonso told his companion that he would rather die with his family than abandon them and he returned to the house.

The removal of the five bodies was carried out by representatives of the prosecutorīs office who arrived at La Resbalosa by helicopter on the afternoon of Friday 25th. Since we arrived at Mulatos and la Resbalosa we have been surrounded by members of the army who, as we have already reported, were conducting operations in the entire area since Thursday 17th February.

Since that date, the army has maintained a strong presence in all the settlements of San José. In the report we made, we referred to the strategy of the army and the paramilitary to evacuate the settlements and take control of the land.

There have been indiscriminate bombings followed by operations destroying everything with which they have come into contact: animals, crops, houses and, as this latest incident shows, entire families, children of only 4 years of age, babies of only 18 months - all victims of an inhuman conflict. What is even worse is the fact that they are victims of the forces of the Colombian state whose constitutional function is to protect its own citizens.

But there is absolutely no doubt that the strategy is working: only two weeks ago we pointed out that as a result of all these operations in Mulatos and Resbalosa only 10 families remain.

Now 9 of them have been moved to San José. We are also concerned that the whereabouts of 3 families from the settlement of Las Nieves remain unknown.

With respect to the common graves, there are further terrible events to report. Just before nightfall we went in search of the bodies of Luis Eduardo Guerra, leader of the community, and his family. We found them abandoned on one side of a path by the river.

There was no sign of bullet wounds and it was clear that they had been severely beaten and eventually their throats had been cut. The bodies of Luis Eduardo, Bellamira and Deiner were still there at midday on Saturday 26th because the prosecutor's office first removed the bodies from the common graves, promising to return first thing next morning.

They did not do so. One section of the commission stayed there waiting for the prosecutor's office to keep its word so that the bodies of our friends could receive a burial. Eventually, today, the bodies were taken away.

In the middle of all this tragedy, we can see how the strategy of terror by the State carries on. The soldiers who are maintaining such a strong presence in the area have said to various families in the area that it is a pity that the facts have become known so quickly as otherwise there would have been more deaths.

And the troop that has been surrounding us during this period commented that this incident "smells of dead guerrillas", referring to the 8 people who have been massacred. Despite the fact that the troop commander promised not to take photographs or videos, they have done so.

The soldiers have constantly provoked the commission members, accusing them of being guerrillas and asking for or pointing out various leaders specifically using their names.

The media has attempted to distort the facts, reporting either that the massacre was carried out by guerrillas or, in other versions, alleging that it was done by the paramilitary. For us it is obvious (and the witnesses state as much) that this was an army operation; they even cordoned off the area before the massacre (since 17th February) and still remain in the local settlements.

The media has also stated that Luis Eduardo was involved in a bombing in August of last year. The truth is quite the reverse; Luis Eduardoīs family, among others, were victims of an explosion caused by a grenade which had been abandoned by the army. Deiner, Luis Eduardo's son, was seriously injured and nearly lost one of his legs due to the explosion.

It is not unusual that there has been an attempt to conceal the truth of the events. However, the nature of the evidence, the obvious army presence in the area before, during and after the massacre clearly point to the Colombian army as the perpetrators of this recent attack against the civilian population. We are facing a new humanitarian crisis in the area and the death of our friends and of Luis Eduardo, the leader of the community, will have a strong impact on the process.

We know that the strategy of terror and impunity will continue. The army have threatened various families in the settlements and have warned them that the same will happen to them unless they leave.

For this reason, we call on the witnesses who survived the massacre and who are afraid for their lives. The facts are overwhelming: we have endured 152 killings and no-one has stood trial for any one of them. Yet the Colombian legal system has collected hundreds of testimonies which indicate the persons responsible.

Despite this, impunity continues and will continue simply because it is necessary to protect the perpetrators.

Therefore, we now call for national and international solidarity to demand an end to this strategy of terror which has been carried out against the Peace Community of San José and against the population in the settlements of the rural district.

We ask for respect for the process that is going on in the areas of San José and the Humanitarian Zones. On this occasion there were eight deaths, innocent civilians, entire families and children - all victims of the terror. On Monday 28th February, we hope to have a mass funeral in the cemetery of San José.

But the words of Luis Eduardo, his ideas and views, will remain with us and are now stronger than ever. He believed that the civilian population have a right to live with dignity. We also believe that and we will continue to defend this belief even if we risk our lives.

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small logoThis document has been published on 05Mar05 by Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights